Planning Steps

A Strategic Planning Process Has Five Key Steps

1. Fact-Finding

In order for key volunteers and staff to carry out a planning process, they must have knowledge of their constituencies. Individuals served, staff, volunteers, donors, and partners are among the groups who must be solicited for their views, ideas, needs, and hopes for the organization. Program data reports, interviews, surveys, focus groups, and constituency group forums are some ways that information can be brought together for the planning process. Depending on the size of the nonprofit, this step in the planning process can take from a week or two to six months.

2. Focus on Mission

The mission of the organization answers the question, "why do we exist?" The mission statement that comes from this focus on mission must be operational, allowing everyone within the organization, or donating to the organization to say "this is my contribution that moves the mission forward."

The mission statement is often supported by values and/or belief statements that provide descriptive language supporting the ultimate development of the single statement of purpose.

3. Goals Development

Setting the goals defines the desired future for the organization and the direction it will take. Generally designed to be achieved three years in the future, goals identify those areas on which the organization will focus its efforts. Goals are written in such a way as to describe the results the organization strives to achieve. In setting the goals, critical decisions are made about who will be served in fulfilling the mission.

4. Objectives Development

This step in the planning process seeks to quantify shorter-range specific measures of mission fulfillment. Generally one year to eighteen months out in planning, it sets targets or benchmarks which measure the organization toward fulfillment of its goals and mission. Each goal of the plan has one or more specific and measurable objectives.

5. Action Planning

This phase of the strategic planning process is set by the management and staff of the nonprofit organization. Specific key actions are described that are designed to move the organization toward completion of its objectives and, ultimatey, its goals and mission. Action planning includes timelines, resource utilization, responsibility, and measurement tools that allow the staff and board to document outcomes and complete a full appraisal of the organization.


Ongoing Planning

It is important to remember that strategic planning is an ongoing process. A complete planning process usually happens once every three years, with objectives and action planning happening at least annually. However, to be effective, the volunteer leadership and staff of an organization must continually consult the plan, assess progress, make changes as needed, and build all elements of organizational work with the plan as a guide.

It's common for an organization to set aside time for a strategic planning "tune-up" annually, even when the organization's board and executive staff are diligent in following progress in implementing the plan regularly.